Just five days after the world’s premier MMA organization delivered in a big way in Sydney, Australia with UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch, the UFC returns stateside to Louisville, Kentucky’s 1 Arena Plaza for UFC on Versus 3. Headlined by The Ultimate Fighter’s first champion “The Nightmare” Diego Sanchez (22-4) and the Dutch kickboxing expert “The Hitman” Martin Kampmann (17-4), the UFC’s third free offering on the former home of the WEC also features “The Doberman” CB Dollaway (11-2), “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Mark Munoz (7-2), “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara (15-7), Chris Weidman (4-0), Brian Bowles (8-1), and “The Angel of Death” Damacio Page (10-6). Also slated for the fans’ viewing pleasure is a solid lightweight bout between two men with something to prove to Dana White and the UFC brass. “Daddy” Joe Stevenson (31-11) is the TUF Season 2 winner and a one time title contender with a UFC record of 8-6, but has gone 3-4 since failing to capture the lightweight belt, carries back-to-back loses into this fight, and desperately wants to prove he’s still relevant in the UFC’s deepest division. “Last Call” Danny Castillo (9-3) is a 5-3 WEC transplant who understands that he needs to win and win impressively if wants to keep his spot of the UFC lightweight roster, arguably the most prestigious single division roster in the sport.
At First Glance: The match certainly has an interesting feel to it with both men’s wrestling backgrounds playing in such radically different fashions. Stevenson is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo black belt with a physical strength-driven submission game and as such uses his lifetime of wrestling training to get his fights to the mat where he overpowers opponents who lack the technique to stop him. Page has turned from using his wrestling for control to using it as an efficient sprawl and brawler. In his last six bouts he is 4-2 with three KO/TKOs to his credit. The two fighters are opposite sides of the same coin – two wrestlers, one a vet who looks to submit his opponent to prove he still matters, one a newcomer hungry to blast his foe from the feet to prove he deserves the lofty appointment he has been given. The results should be a sure fan pleaser.
In Depth: Bruce Lee once said “Your strength is your weakness” and the truth of this statement will likely be the “Last Call” for Joe Stevenson. While both of these fighters have solid wrestling backgrounds, Castillo only has to use his to maintain a stalemate where Stevenson must use his to force Castillo into his world. Stevenson has always been able to rely on his wrestling to save him when faced with a fighter who threatened him on the feet. Here he can’t rely only on his wrestling and is forced to use some other method to control his opponent and thus his strength becomes a weakness, as he has never needed to develop an alternative. Castillo may not be as good a wrestler as Stevenson, but he doesn’t need to be to simply prevent “Daddy” from taking the fight to the floor and even if Stevenson can put him on his back, he will absorb a lot of punishment in exchange for each power double- or single-leg.
Wild Card: Stevenson is strong – freakishly strong – for his weight class. This is clearly evident in his favored choices of submissions. Rear Naked Chokes, Kimuras, his famous Guillotine Choke, all are more strength than technique and Joe has the strength to make them work even in unfavorable positions. This also means that if Joe goes back to his Judo training and forces his takedowns from the clinch he should be able to easily overpower and bully Castillo to the mat where he can pound his way into a submission.
The Verdict: Stevenson has been on a slide recently and a substantial factor in that slide has been his inability to adapt. He took four of the best submission fighters in the world to the mat and paid the price each time, then faced Mac Danzig (20-8-1) and refused to shoot despite losing practically every exchange the two men had up until he was KO’d. There is no reason to believe that this pattern will change against Castillo. If Stevenson decides to stand, he will lose. If he decides to take the fight to the mat, he will likely do it with his power double-leg takedown and will likely fail, and lose. Stevenson needs to prove that he has developed an ability to adapt his fighting to stay relevant in the lightweight division, otherwise he will just be another name on Castillo’s growing list of TKOs. Castillo via TKO, Round 2.